Is Australia Post's ShopMate Worth The Money?

How to buy US-only products onlineImage: Supplied

ShopMate is a freight-forwarding service run by Australia Post that solves a common online shopping problem. In short, it sets up a US postal address so that you can buy items that don't ship internationally. Purchases are then forwarded onto you for a "small" fee. It sounds great on paper, but is it actually worth the money? Well, that all depends on what you're buying.

Unless you have American relatives, freight-forwarding services are one of the only ways to purchase goods that only ship to US addresses. Even after exchange rates and service fees are taken into account, the total price can still be significantly cheaper than buying locally. (Thanks, Australia tax.)

Whether you're trying to save a few bucks on a shiny new gadget or require something that isn't sold over here, ShopMate is an easy solution. You simply set up a free account and begin shopping online. You now have a legitimate US address to use at checkout for sites that don't ship to Australia.

When the packages arrive at the ShopMate warehouse, you declare them, pay the shipping costs and wait for them to arrive in Australia. This usually takes around six to seven working days, although delays are not uncommon during the peak Christmas period. If you're buying gifts, allow an extra week to be on the safe side.

The chief advantage of ShopMate is customer service. You can track deliveries through your Australia Post account and speak to a ShopMate representative if something goes wrong. By contrast, US-based forwarding services operate in completely different time zones which can make them difficult to contact - if they have a phone number at all.

So how much does ShopMate cost and is the service worth the money? As you'd expect, that all depends on the size of the item in question. International shipping rates are $22.95 per parcel, plus $4.95 per 500g. (The latter is calculated based on the cubic weight of your parcel.)

This can get quite expensive if you're shipping bulky packages or multiple purchases at once. There are also weight and size restrictions, which rules out very large items.

Here are some package dimension calculations as they appear on Australia Post's website:

Example product Base rate (AUD) Weight rate (AUD) Total (AUD)
Book (500g) $22.95 $4.95 $27.90
Women's shoes (1.5kg) $22.95 $14.85 $37.80
Women’s handbag (2kg) $22.95 $19.80 $42.75
Sleeping Bag $22.95 $29.70 $52.65

As you can see, the ShopMate fees are quite hefty - if you're just trying to avoid the so-called 'Australia Tax', the cost of shipping combined with ShopMate's base rate of $22.95 will likely knock out any savings. A single book or Blu-ray would almost certainly not be worth it.

Likewise, oddly shaped or bulky items can be surprisingly expensive to ship even if they're relatively light. This is due to ShopMate's cubic weight formula which takes the height, length and width of packages into consideration.

With that said, you could still end up slightly better off for things that tend to be marked up extravagantly in Australia, such as flagship gadgets and collectibles. There's also a bundling discount of $10 per parcel for goods that arrive and are paid for on the same day.

ShopMate will repack parcels for a $5 fee, which is a handy way of reducing the cubic weight if there's lots of excess space in the original parcel. However, this option is only available if the original parcel contained no branding. Annoyingly, this rules out most shoe boxes. The difference in cubic weight also needs to be greater than 2kg.

All in all, ShopMate is worth considering if you require US goods that are not readily available in Australia and don't require bulky packing. As a way to dodge expensive local pricing, it's unfortunately less reliable.

Consumer watchdog Choice has an excellent review of the service, complete with comparisons to a range of US-based rivals. You can find it here.


Comments

    What about GST? I would think Apost would have to add that to the cost as well wouldn't they? As opposed to using a US based delivery system that doesn't really need to show that in their delivery costs.

    Last edited 23/11/16 2:13 pm

    Is this an advertorial? If it is, then please make a statement at the beginning of the article.

      Um, I criticise the service for being too expensive throughout the article. It definitely isn't advertorial.

    Having seen some Shipping prices on ebay, this reasonable. I have seen quotes for items to be shipped to Australia via Ebay at ~$100 and this is for items as small as a hard drive.

      That's because you're not paying purely for shipping. On ebay it's very common for sellers to price the item very cheaply so it shows up on searches, and then add the rest of the price to shipping costs to make a profit. So ebay's not a very good marker of how expensive shipping is.

    It's calculated by cubic weight or actual weight, whichever is greater. If the actual weight of your parcel is 9kg but the cubic weight is 10kg, we'll charge you the cubic weight because it is greater. But if the parcel's actual weight is 16kg, we'll charge you the actual weight because it is greater than the cubic weight of 10kg.

    Expensive and no package consolidation mean I'm unlikely to use Shopmate again.
    For me, I found out the hard way that shopping US can be very expensive if your forwarding service, in this case Shopmate, doesn't offer package consolidation. I bought some items from a US retailer who seems to have a couple of warehouses located across the country. The result of this was several packages being sent to my Shopmate address. As the first one that arrived looked to be right with weights and invoice, I proceeded to go through the checkout. Then the next two packages arrived - both of them under 500grams, but with a cubic weight of 1.1kg. So all up, $80 lost to postage costs. At least the items themselves are something that just aren't normally available in Australia, so I don't feel to put out by the loss of savings the extra postage ate up.

    Admittedly my experience isn't something that you could blame Shopmate for. Drop-shipping and shipping from multiple warehouses are just one of those things you learn by pitfall when shopping online through what are normal domestic channels in other countries. However by not consolidating and repacking multiple parcels into a smaller, more cost effective box (they'll just give you $10 off each item after the most expensive), and having a greater than 2kg difference in actual and cubic weight repack policy ($5 for the service), Shopmate is very uncompetitive when compared to similar services.

    End of the day, the only thing Shopmate has going for it, is the reassurance of the Australia Post logo attached to it. Even that's a bit misleading, since everything offshore is handled by Singapore Post.

    It is frustrating to shop with shipmate! Please don't use it especially if you want a smooth shopping experience. If you don't mind dealing with numerous calls and problems and like the `label' of australia post, then shipmate might be for you.
    1. I don't think you can contact shipmate directly for customer service which is only connected to australia post, who knows jackshit about shopemate.
    2. It takes them more than 4 (and still waiting...) business days to figure out how i can log into my account again(which i got locked out for some reason)
    3. And i only realised they don't have parcel consolidation which means shipping will be really expensive.

    These are the most important qualities i look for: smooth service, efficient and effective customer service, shipping cost. Shipmate lacks all of it.
    I wish people told me this before
    Hope it helps!

    Don't ever use Shop Mate. I purchased my daughter some things from the Disney Store and decide to use Shop Mate. One item from my order was shipped seperately, a mug worth USD$10. It weighs 0.9kg. After Shop Mates weight conversion to 2.8kg, they want me to pay $42.35 to ship a mug to Australia. The mug would end up costing me $55.85. This was their response.

    "I can appreciate your frustrations, however as mentioned on the ShopMate website, all postage is calculated cubically, so the extra protective packaging used by the Disney Store to protect your mug in transit is what would have pushed the postage price up so high for that one item. If you do not want to pay that amount of postage, you can contact the Disney store to see if they can arrange a return of the item so we can send it back to them. Also, just to clarify, ShopMate is not designed to be a cheaper postage alternative, but an option for delivery when buying from online stores that do not offer international shipping to Australia at all."

    Shopmate are useless. They will not forward ecigarettes as they are "dangerous". I explained to them that Aust Post have been delivering them to me since 2013 (within Australia, I was using another package forwarding service previously) and that Australian Customs have no problem allowing them into the country. I asked them what they were basing their denial of service on and all I got was silence. When I eventually gave in and asked that they just forward my parcel to another US parcel forwarding service (at a cost of $30+!) I couldn't pay online as their website was having problems with people using the Safari web browser. Many emails and a phone call later it has been 13 days and I'm guessing my package has been forwarded as it is no longer listed in my account. No updates, no descriptions or tracking details.
    I will never use this useless time wasting service again

    I would not use Shopmate again. It was extortion at its best. The package was 16 cm longer than the maximum of 105 cm. However the package was quite light (2 kg) and very narrow. It could have been easily placed at a slight angle to be under this minimum length.

    Anyway I arranged for Shopmate to forward this package to a United States shipping agent based In California. That shipping agent would obviously charge me to send the package to Australia.

    However Shopmate then charged me AU$42.06 to just change the address and redirect the package to California. This is despite the fact that the original packaging and internal delivery cost withing the United States was only US $15.00.

    Never again!

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